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Mother killed in hot air balloon crash in New Mexico was on 'bucket list' ride

Two married couples and the balloon pilot were killed in a crash early Saturday.
/ Source: TODAY

The five people killed in a hot air balloon crash in New Mexico over the weekend have now been identified by police.

The gondola of the hot air balloon dropped from roughly 100 feet early Saturday, striking power lines and catching fire before it crashed on a highway in Albuquerque. Four of the victims were killed on impact, and the fifth died at a hospital later in the day. Bystanders said that they tried to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.

"There was really nothing anyone could do, but we still tried to do what we could," Josh Perez, who was at the scene, told NBC News.

All five passengers were killed after a hot air balloon crashed in Albuquerque.
All five passengers were killed after a hot air balloon crashed in Albuquerque.Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal

The balloon ride was a "bucket list" item for Susan Montoya, an assistant principal at an Albuquerque elementary school, the school district's superintendent, Scott Elder, said in a press conference Sunday. The ride was a goodbye gift from her colleagues since Montoya was scheduled to transfer to another school this upcoming school year.

Montoya, 65, and her husband John Montoya, 61, were among those killed in the crash. John also worked in the school district as a special education assistant. Their daughter Stacy Francis told NBC News that the couple were "such peaceful people" who loved their work.

"They enjoyed everything they did and they made the most out of everything they did," she said. "All of the students that they ever had any interaction with, I guarantee they loved every single one of them, because they were just caring people."

The other three victims in the crash also had ties to Albuquerque Public Schools.

Fatal Balloon Crash
Albuquerque Fire Rescue personnel work on the victims of the fatal balloon crash.Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal

The other two passengers were identified as Martin and Mary Martinez. Martin Martinez, 62, was a retired Albuquerque police officer who worked in the school system. Mary Martinez, 59, was "very involved" in the schools, according to NBC affiliate KOB-TV.

The pilot of the hot air balloon, Nicholas Meleski, 62, who had over 25 years of experience flying balloons, had a daughter who is a school counselor in the district.

Albuquerque police are investigating the crash. A spokesperson for the police department said that they are "not sure of the cause" of the accident. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are also investigating.

"Every time you go out and fly, you've got your soul and the souls in the basket with you," said Bill Noe, a hot air balloonist and friend of one of the victims. "And there's always a possibility that something could happen that you don't have control of."